In re Brady, 080620 NJSC, D-10-19
|Opinion Judge:||PER CURIAM|
|Party Name:||In the Matter of Carlia M. Brady, a Judge of the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey|
|Attorney:||Maureen G. Bauman, Designated Presenter, argued the cause on behalf of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. Respondent argued the cause on her own behalf.|
|Judge Panel:||PER CURIAM JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA, concurring, JUSTICE ALBIN, dissenting, JUSTICE LaVECCHIA, dissenting, CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES PATTERSON and SOLOMON join in the Court's opinion. JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA filed a concurrence. JUSTICES ALBIN and LaVECCHIA each filed a dissent. JUSTICE TIMP...|
|Case Date:||August 06, 2020|
|Court:||Supreme Court of New Jersey|
Argued April 30, 2020
On an Order to Show Cause Why Respondent Should Not Be Publicly Disciplined through the Imposition of an Appropriate Sanction that does not include Removal from Judicial Office.
Maureen G. Bauman, Designated Presenter, argued the cause on behalf of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
Respondent argued the cause on her own behalf.
By Presentment filed with the Court in this judicial disciplinary matter, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) found by clear and convincing evidence that respondent Carlia M. Brady, formerly a Judge of the Superior Court, violated four provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code). The ACJC unanimously recommended the sanction of removal from judicial office.
Respondent was sworn in as a Judge on April 5, 2013. On June 11, 2013, officers of the Woodbridge Township Police Department (WTPD) arrested respondent at her home for "knowingly harboring Jason Prontnicki, a known fugitive," in her residence. The Court suspended respondent from her judicial duties without pay and referred the matter to the ACJC. The three criminal charges against respondent were eventually dropped, and the Court reinstated respondent to her judicial duties in March 2018.
In May 2018, the ACJC issued a Complaint charging respondent with conduct that violated Canon 1, Rule 1.1; Canon 2, Rules 2.1 and 2.3(A); and Canon 5, Rule 5.1(A) of the Code. At the ACJC hearing, the following facts emerged.
On June 10, 2013, respondent had been a Superior Court judge for approximately two months. She and Prontnicki had been involved in a romantic relationship for about six months, and Prontnicki was living in respondent's home.
On that morning, respondent appeared at WTPD headquarters to report her car missing. She met with two police sergeants and Officer Robert Bartko. Respondent told the officers that Prontnicki, her boyfriend, had taken one of her cars without permission. The officers explained the procedure to file a criminal complaint against Prontnicki, but respondent declined to do so. While respondent was at the station, officers learned there were two open warrants for Prontnicki's arrest, one for a violent crime, and that his driver's license had been suspended. The officers told respondent about Prontnicki's open warrants and suspended license. The police report reflects that the officers told respondent that as "an officer of the court," she was required to report to them "if and when" Prontnicki returned with the car, so they could arrest him.
Shortly after respondent returned home, Prontnicki called her. Respondent testified that Prontnicki told her he would return her car, that he denied knowing of any warrants or a suspended license, and that she told him that he needed to "go to the police and take care of it right away." It is undisputed that -- after speaking with Prontnicki --respondent did not call the police to advise them Prontnicki would be at her home.
Respondent testified that, when Prontnicki arrived, he walked past her father into the house. Respondent said she was "a little surprised and shocked and then fearful," and that she told Prontnicki to leave. Nonetheless, she and Prontnicki talked in her garage for about an hour, joined by her father for the final fifteen minutes of their conversation.
Approximately fifteen minutes after Prontnicki left her home, respondent called the WTPD, asked to speak with Bartko, and left a message on Bartko's voicemail. Respondent notified police that her car had been returned, but other contents of that message are disputed. Respondent contended before the ACJC and the Court that the WTPD tampered with the voicemail to delete part of her message.
The next morning, on June 11, 2013, Prontnicki called respondent, and they spoke for more than two and a half hours. Respondent testified that during that call, Prontnicki confirmed he would be staying with his brother and said he needed to retrieve belongings from her home. They made an appointment for that afternoon, and Prontnicki called later to confirm their appointment. Respondent did not notify the police after either call.
Respondent left a second message for Officer Bartko later that afternoon, confirming that her car had been returned. Respondent contends that the WTPD also tampered with and intentionally deleted parts of her second voicemail. Bartko did not retrieve either of respondent's messages until after respondent was arrested.
Meanwhile, WTPD officers conducted surveillance of respondent's residence during the afternoon of June 11, 2013. When Prontnicki left her house, a WTPD officer arrested Prontnicki. Shortly after his arrest, members of the WTPD went to respondent's home and arrested her for hindering Prontnicki's apprehension. One testified that when respondent was arrested, she said, "I've been vetted, take the cuffs off." According to the police report, respondent directed officers to take the handcuffs off of her, then asked to be handcuffed with her hands in front of her rather than behind her. The officers refused.
Later that evening, officers and an assistant prosecutor presented a Superior Court judge a complaint warrant alleging that respondent had "harbor[ed]" Prontnicki in her residence "for approximately 1 hour and never ma[de] any attempt to contact law enforcement." Although one officer was aware that respondent had left voicemails for Bartko, he did not disclose those voicemails to the judge. The judge signed the complaint warrant. Before the ACJC, an officer conceded that the statement in the complaint warrant that respondent never tried to contact law enforcement was inaccurate.
At the ACJC hearing, both respondent and the Presenter offered expert testimony by psychologists and audio engineering experts. The ACJC found by clear and convincing evidence that respondent violated the Code. With respect to contested facts and the two issues that the parties' experts disputed, the ACJC made findings in the Presenter's favor. The ACJC recommended respondent's removal from judicial office.
Respondent moved before the Court to dismiss the Presentment, or, in the alternative, to modify the ACJC's recommendation that she be removed from office. After oral argument on that motion, the Court entered an Order to Show Cause denying the motion to dismiss and requiring respondent to show cause "why she should not be publicly disciplined through the imposition of an appropriate sanction that is less than removal, the Court having determined on its review of the matter that the appropriate quantum of discipline shall not include removal."
HELD: The Court concurs in substantial part with the ACJC's factual findings and holds that clear and convincing evidence supports the ACJC's determination that respondent committed the Code violations charged. The Court modifies the ACJC's recommendation that respondent be removed from judicial office, however, and instead imposes on respondent a three-month suspension from judicial duties.
1. New Jersey's system of judicial discipline exists to preserve public confidence in the integrity and the independence of the judiciary. To that end, every judge is duty bound to abide by and enforce the standards in the Code of Judicial Conduct. A judge's acts need not be criminal in order to implicate the Code. Four provisions of the Code govern this disciplinary matter, and the Court reviews each. (pp. 19-21)
2. After an independent review of the record presented to the ACJC, the Court finds that the Presenter met her burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence a core allegation. Despite ample opportunity to contact the WTPD in advance of Prontnicki's visits to her home on June 10 and 11, 2013, respondent declined to do so. When she did call the police after Prontnicki's departure on each of those two days, she was not forthcoming about her contacts with him and did not reveal her detailed knowledge of his activities. Whether the transcript of the voicemail is accurate or whether it is missing information because of police misconduct, respondent was not fully forthcoming with the WTPD. The Court does not accept respondent's contention that she acted as she did because the officers allegedly instructed on June 10, 2013 that she should contact police only in specific circumstances, nor does the Court find credible that she refrained from calling the police because she feared that Prontnicki would injure her. The evidence supports the inference that respondent acted in the hope that she could assist Prontnicki and preserve their relationship while maintaining her judicial career. The Court views respondent's comment that she was "vetted" to be a reference to her judicial status intended to discourage the officers from handcuffing her. (pp. 21-32)
3. Relying only on clear and convincing evidence, the Court views respondent's communications with the WTPD on June 10 and 11, 2013 to fall short of the high standards imposed by the Code. Respondent was undoubtedly in a difficult situation during the two days at issue here, and it is understandable that she was upset as those disturbing events unfolded. As a judge, however, respondent was not at liberty to address her circumstances with only herself and her personal relationships in mind. The public has the right to expect that when police officers are searching for a fugitive accused of a violent crime and a judge has detailed knowledge of the whereabouts, activities and immediate plans of that fugitive, the judge will take prompt and decisive action to ensure that law enforcement is fully informed....
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